Erythroxylaceae, Erythroxylon (Erythroxylum) coca, var. ipadu
The coca plant is an understory shrub with simple, entire, alternate leaves. As can be observed from the photographs above, the leaves are smooth, light green oval-shaped and approx. 5-8 cm long, born on short petioles. The flowers are inconspicuous, small and white, found singly or in small clusters along the branches (see flower buds in photo). The red, berry-like fruit are elliptical and contain a single seed.
Coca has a long history of use by indigenous peoples. The leaves have been chewed by Andean Indians of South America for thousands of years. Tens of thousands of people chew coca leaves on a daily basis. The leaves are also made into a tea. Both forms of consumption relieve hunger and fatigue.
Traditionally, coca leaves are prepared as a chew and packed in the mouth with lime. Lime, typically in the form of ashes of various plants (such as Cecropia spp.) and/or from burned rocks, and uric acid, is added to enhance flavor and effect.
Coca is native to the Amazon where it’s consumption is traditionally restricted to males. Today the plant is widely cultivated and consumed throughout Andean countries of South America.
Only until relatively recently has the plant assumed the stigma associated with cocaine, a recreational drug abused largely by feeble and insecure members of modern western societies. It, in turn, abuses them back.
Over five million people use cocaine and its derivatives in the US alone. Typically, cocaine is either snorted, smoked as “crack”, or dissolved and injected. Cocaine abuse has debilitating, addictive results. It is a severe problem in many countries, and getting worse.
Typical symptoms after ingesting cocaine include euphoria, the urge to speak, enhanced libido, loss of inhibitions, hallucinations, dilated pupils, vasoconstriction, hypertension, tachycardia and death from respiratory arrest. Schizophrenic episodes may also occur. Cocaine induces strong psychic but not physical dependence.
Cocaine addiction does, however, prove to be physically debilitating; cocaine addicts can be readily observed as a wholly unhealthy bunch. Weak and downtrodden, their skin takes on a sickly translucent yellowish hue. Eyes sunken and jaundiced, and malodorous sweat beading up on the forehead for no reason. Be very weary of the cocaine addict for they will only lie to you and steal your money, then they will forgo eating and feeding their own children to spend the stolen money on another little pile of temporary self-affirmation.
Cocaine is a tropane alkaloid, it was the first commercial anaesthetic, but is no longer commonly used in modern medicine.
There is a huge amount of significant historical information to include on this plant, I’ll upload additions periodically. In the meantime, here is a link to Mama Coca, headed up by Anthony Henman (the author of the book, also called Mama Coca. The website is a fantastic resource for a wide variety of information related contemporary and historical cultural, and political aspects of the coca plant